4 June 2023

4 June 2023


Let’s vote on the Trinity!        IN or OUT?

The Church celebrates Trinity Sunday today.

Don’t panic I am not going to reflect on the Trinity this morning.

I am fully aware that some of you don’t subscribe to the doctrine of Trinity.

And I don’t intend to bash you with another sermon on Trinity.

According to Rev Dr John Squires, a retired Uniting Church’s minister and a biblical scholar,

“Trinity Sunday is one of those extremely rare moments during the church year…

First, it’s one of the very few times in the Christian calendar that a Sunday is named for a doctrine, rather than for a biblical story (Easter, Pentecost, Christmas, and the like).

And second, it is unusual in that it presents problems for the shapers of the lectionary, since (in my view) the Doctrine of the Trinity is not actually proclaimed in the biblical texts.

Indeed, we might well argue that the texts which are selected for this Sunday

(Genesis 1, Psalm 8, 2 Corinths 13, and Matthew 28) are actually being asked to undertake work that they weren’t intended to do, and that they can’t actually do without significant violence being done to them.”

And for those who believe in the doctrine of Trinity please continue.

This morning I am going to do something very different.

I am going to reflect with you on two verses in Genesis chapter 2: verses 2 and 3:

“2 On the sixth day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it, God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.”

Let us pray…

Creator God, we understand from Hebrews 4 that your Word is living and active.

So may it be living and active in our lives today. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

Let’s not forget that Genesis was written for Israelites who lived in the Promised Land, who were to commemorate each week the rest they had been given by the Creator.  Their weekly experience of rest was then associated with the creation

by the words of Genesis 2:2-3.  The writer of Genesis was informed by

and influenced by the weekly Sabbath as he wrote about the “rest” of God.

He was writing from the point of view of an Israelite who had been saved from slavery and who enjoyed the “rest” God provided the nation.

The writer understood that the various rest days commanded for Israel — the weekly Sabbath, annual festivals, and years of agricultural rest — reflected what God had done for the nation.

God’s actions of providing “rest” signalled to the writer that in God’s creative purpose his creatures should find rest in him.

Genesis 2:2-3 then, is not an early command for all people to keep

the seventh day as holy time.

Many Seventh Day Adventists believe that!

Before I reflect further, we need to ask the question, “Does God need REST?”

“2 On the sixth day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it, God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.”

Now from the research I have done, the Hebrew verb translated as “rested” in the above verses is “shabath”, from which the noun “shabbath” is formed.  But the verb “shabath” does NOT mean “to rest”!  The verb “shabath” really means “TO CEASE DOING SOMETHING”!  It means: “to come to an end, to terminate, to conclude” but it does not mean “to rest”.

The antonym for “shabath” is NOT “to work”, the correct antonym for “shabath” is “TO START”.

NOW because these verses say that God “rested”, therefore people assume that

the focus of the Sabbath is “to rest”.  The religious Jews in Israel today have gone to the extreme of preventing people from making even the simplest movements,

which could be interpreted as “work”, on the Sabbath.

For example, carrying more than the weight of a dried fig was considered “carrying a burden” according to the Talmud.

Jewish scholars know quite well that the Hebrew verb “shabath” means “to cease doing something”, but they have ADDED THE MEANING of “to rest” to this verb.

In a sense, they have simply “extended” the meaning of this verb.

But that added meaning, that extension, is not really correct.

The reason why Jewish scholars of old added this meaning of “to rest” to the verb “shabath” is TO UPHOLD THEIR TRADITIONS REGARDING THE SABBATH!

It is a trick that was commonly used by the “tannaim”, the Jewish sages of the first

and second centuries, simply assigning an additional totally new meaning to a biblical Hebrew word, for the explicit purpose of supporting their own teachings,

which were in conflict with the actual biblical instructions.

Of the better-known English translations only Young’s Literal Translation (YLT)

has retained the correct meaning of this verb.

Here is that translation:

and God completeth by the seventh day His work which He hath made, and ceaseth by the seventh day from all His work which He hath made.

And God blesseth the seventh day, and sanctifieth it, for in it He hath ceased from all His work which God had prepared for making. (Genesis 2:2-3 YLT)

The emphasis in Genesis 2:2-3 is not on “RESTING”, but on the cessation of the activities God had engaged in up to that point in time.

“Resting” is often a consequence of “ceasing to do things”, though not necessarily always.

Nor does the cessation of some activities preclude the continuation of other activities.  

It is always the context in which the Hebrew verb “shabath” is used that makes this clear.  The focus of Genesis 2:2-3 is clearly on the cessation of activity.

God “ceased from all His work”.

Resting is a consequence of this cessation, but resting is NOT the direct subject

or focus of these verses.

Yes, resting is without question a part of the Sabbath; but there is also much more

to the Sabbath than just resting.

It is the later statement in Exodus 20:11, where the expression “and RESTED the seventh day” uses the verb “nuwach” rather than the verb “shabath”, that brings “resting” into the picture.

We cannot use Genesis 2:2-3 to claim that God instructed us “to rest” on the Sabbath.  These verses say nothing at all about resting.

Again, it’s Exodus 20:11 that first introduces the idea of “resting”.

By the way, just to clarify, this doesn’t mean that God was tired after working hard

for six days and needed a day to get rested up and replenish his energy.

Instead, as I mentioned earlier scholars tell us that the word “rest” in this context

simply refers to ceasing God’s creative work, and the word “refreshed” refers to experiencing satisfaction and delight.

So, unlike us finite creatures, God doesn’t need rest and a cuppa to recover from God’s work.  However, God’s example is still instructive for us and shows us that ceasing and refreshment go together. 

And that’s also what we see both with the Israelites in their mandatory observance

of the Sabbath in the Old Testament as well as with Christians in their voluntary observance of the Lord’s Day in the New Testament.

In both the Old and New Testaments, ceasing wasn’t just about taking a break from certain activities but about replacing those ordinary activities with special activities

that bring spiritual nourishments. 

What theological point do you think the writer of Genesis was trying to make about God and God’s purpose in the creation?

The seventh day, is a day to cease, a day to connect, a day to celebrate.

 Let’s not forget that Sabbath is a gift to a finite humanity (and all of creation)

that needs these creational rhythms of rest, worship, and play in order to flourish.

And, as Pharaoh seems to indicate in Exodus, there are ALWAYS more bricks to make.

At issue is a contrast between a culture which describes itself as ‘24/7’, and a way of living that accepts limits.

Once again, the ‘first’ Sabbath (Gen 2:1-4a) follows the creator God’s six days of work.  It is a cessation from further production and celebrates the presence of the creator within creation.   Similarly, the ‘Christian’ Sabbath follows the kenotic activity of the redemptive God in the dying of Jesus who restores and makes new the relationships inherently present but not actualised in the first Sabbath.

Eventually, as those made in the image of God, we have to set aside the day

and declare that it is different from the other days.

Not because we’re lazy as Pharaoh insists, but because we need the moments to step back from our work, even when we love what we do. …and we need the moments to abide deeply with our God. …and we need the moments with family, friends, and ourselves that make our souls declare “it is very good.”

Sabbath is not a word that refers to remedying exhaustion after a tiring week of work.

Rather, it describes the enjoyment of accomplishment, the celebration of completion.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

There’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth:

2-8 A right time for birth and another for death,
A right time to plant and another to reap,
A right time to kill and another to heal,
A right time to destroy and another to construct,
A right time to cry and another to laugh,
A right time to lament and another to cheer,
A right time to make love and another to abstain,
A right time to embrace and another to part,
A right time to search and another to count your losses,
A right time to hold on and another to let go,
A right time to rip out and another to mend,
A right time to shut up and another to speak up,
A right time to love and another to hate,
A right time to wage war and another to make peace.

A right time to create and another to cease.

Let’s enjoy the joy of ceasing!